Get Adobe Flash player

How Comstock Park metal-bending company creates artistic work – Michigan Business Review

Couturier Iron Craft makes sculpture for Battle Creek

COMSTOCK PARK — Dominic Couturier comes from a family that made bending metal into an art form.

The work of Couturier Iron Works Inc. is featured in corporate headquarters, universities, malls, hospitals and other edifices across the country.

The most recent work is the artistic element of Battle Creek’s $8 million downtown streetscape transformation.

The arched piece is 60 feet long, 15 feet high and weighs 7,000 pounds. Given the unofficial name “the wave,” the artwork fits into the water theme of the downtown located between the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek rivers.

Creating artwork with a water feel is nothing new for the metal fabrication company that turned David Lubbers’ vision into “The Grand Dance,” which took fourth place in the first ArtPrize competition in 2009. Made of metal and illuminated by solar energy, the sculpture was an homage to the Grand River.

The firm has become the go-to expert for creating elaborate fixtures with highly detailed, polished finishes.

Dominic Couturier says the Battle Creek sculpture will be remembered as one of the company’s most challenging projects.

“This is a little more custom than we are used to,” said Dominic Couturier, who nicknamed the enormous piece “shopnest monster” while working on it for four months with Benny Lopez.

“It’s a whole collaboration in the shop,” said Couturier. “A lot of people had their hands on it, but Benny and I spent the most time on it.”

He says he felt like an artist because he had to figure out how to make some of the fabrication called for in the renderings possible.

The metal skin of the sculpture has an “angel hair finish” created by polishing with a pneumatic orbital sander using 80-grit sandpaper. He had to create a track along the middle for LED lights.

“There was some fabrication in the drawing that didn’t show how it was done,” Couturier said. “It was left up to me to figure out how to do it.”

Project manager Kurt Tribbett agrees, crediting the metal fabrication company for keeping the project on schedule and avoiding cost overuns by quickly coming up with solutions along the way.

“They catch that vision and try to make it look like what the architect imagined,” said Tribbett, project engineer for the city of Battle Creek

Landscape architect Kerri Bennett, with Integrated Architecture, who designed the piece is just as pleased with the results: “They did an incredible job.”

Glass will soon be added the sculpture, which is expected to be wrapped up by the end of the summer with a dedication planned for sometime in the fall, Tribbett said. A water and fire element will be added near by as well.

Dominic Couturier’s grandfather, Richard Couturier, started the business in 1968 when he cashed in his life insurance policy to buy property at 5050 West River Drive NE. His first shop has since been expanded into a 32,000-square-foot plant.

Many of his eight sons and three daughters helped it grow over the years into a national leader in creating ornate metal products. Now, the company is run by Dominic’s father, Tom, and his uncles, Tim and Rich. They employ between 20 to 40 workers, depending on the projects.

“We’ve had 40 years of continued growth,” said Rich Couturier, adding that the economy caught up to the company in 2010, but business quickly began to rebound last year.

Most projects are between $200,000 to $750,000. Annual sales tend to fall between $4 million to $6 million.

The company’s glass and metal rails, and metallic column covers can be found in buildings throughout the Midwest and along the East Coast. Couturier’s signature spiral and curved staircases are in the JW Marriott hotel and the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

“They have to look appealing to the eye, and also be structurally sound,” said Dominic Couturier, of the company’s work from railings to trellis.

Dominic Couturier is the only one of Richard Couturier’s 60 grandkids who has forged his way into the family business. While he has earned a business degree at Davenport University, he credits his grandfather and his uncles for showing him how to build a successful business that adapts to changes in the market.

“The market changed to something more high-end, artsy and we adapted,” said Dominic Couturier. “I look at my uncles as artists.”

Email Shandra Martinez or follow her on Twitter

Article source: